Domestic Violence: A Conversation with CODA, Sistercare and SC Legal Services

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Yes, it is a disappointing ranking. Nevertheless, with our state ranked number one in the nation for women killed by men, we simply have to change this. We asked our grantees who work with victims of domestic abuse – Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse (CODA), Sistercare and South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) – about the critical needs of these women and how they are addressing those needs through legal services.

Along with handling complex issues like Orders of Protection, child custody and divorce, our grantees agreed that unwavering support for the client is absolute. “When battered women realize they have their own attorney at the hearing, they immediately feel more assured and confident about the legal process,” said Jane Waters, attorney for Sistercare. “Sistercare’s clients state that it is an empowering experience to have legal representation at Order of Protection hearings and other Family Court proceedings.” These proceedings can be overwhelming moments for many of the abused women who are coming face to face with their abusers for the first time since the violent attacks. “Typically, the perpetrators are represented by legal counsel in court,” she said, “and the victims feel intimidated and disadvantaged when being questioned, and sometimes bullied, in a court hearing.”

Support, in the case of SCLS attorney Adam Protheroe, can also mean directly intervening in heated situations. He recalled his client “Diane,” a single mother of three and resident of a public housing complex, who recently ended her relationship with her boyfriend due to physical abuse. On the day her boyfriend came to her apartment with a gun, threatening to kill her, Diane called the police. As her boyfriend had vanished before they arrived, they could only file a report. Not soon after, she received a notice from the Housing Authority saying that her lease would be terminated because “it has been reported that you have a police report,” not recognizing that Diane was the victim in the situation. Adam stepped in when the Housing Authority filed an eviction notice, which was dismissed. SCLS also had the Housing Authority agree to help Diane move to another subsidized apartment so her boyfriend would not know where she lived.

Like sister grantees, CODA began noticing a need to address the “I simply cannot leave him” mindset ten years after its creation in 1986. The shelter began by hiring a court advocate, but found that their clients’ legal and emotional needs during the legal process were still not being met. “After attending hearings, the court advocate noted that survivors who weren’t represented by an attorney were less likely to receive judicial relief and were more likely to be treated inequitably,” said Kristin Dubrowski, executive director of CODA. “Consequently, many returned to the perpetrator and the abuse continued.” This prompted the hiring of a full-time staff attorney in 2002 and full-time paralegal in 2009. Once a client is given short-term safety, the focus turns to long-term needs. “CODA’s attorney, paralegal and court advocate… understand the dynamics involved with domestic violence and are able to create a supportive environment that allows survivors to open up and share their experiences.”

You don’t have to be a legal services attorney to save women who have been traumatized by domestic abuse. You can help us directly support these grantees by making a donation to the Bar Foundation. Your gift will bring us one step closer to finding more solutions to lower our ranking and save lives.

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